Can a Silent Film Still Win Best Picture?

As the saying goes, silence is golden; and that will likely ring true for the new silent black-and-white film, The Artist. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival back in May 2011, The Artist garnered critical acclaim while the lead role, Jean Dujardin, walked away with the award for best actor, thus The Artist remains a prime candidate to be the golden child for the 2012 Academy Awards.

Directed by Michel Haznavicius, famous for his spy movie spoofs OSS 1117: Cairo and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, The Artist is a French romance film that pays homage to the yesteryear of cinema. Set in Hollywood during the transition from silent films to sound, the story follows the decline of the beloved silent film star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin).

Talkies, what we modern-day movie goers call sound film, take over Hollywood, which proves to be an absolute nightmare for George. Yet in the midst of chaos, George meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a stunning young starlet destined for fame. Miller appears to be anything but a nightmare, yet, she’s a talkie. The film follows the relationship of the two lovers as George experiences a fall from the spotlight while Peppy is thrust into the spotlight, a classic plot.

Neither George nor Peppy need words. Their on-screen chemistry overcomes silence; actions do speak louder than words, no? Haznavicius makes a bold move, finding no need for those quotable and cliché one-liners that have women swooning and men scoffing. We all know those lines, quotes like “Here’s to looking at you, kid,” (Casablanca), or “You should be kissed often, and by someone that knows how,” (Gone with the Wind) are engrained in our minds. These lines are pure gold, previously winning Oscars for Best Picture. Yet, it seems words would only cheapen the passion between George and Peppy. The acting is absolutely superb and sincere when it could very easily be tasteless. George is suave and dapper while Peppy is sensual and elegant, a recipe for gold.

The authenticity shared by both the film and the actors is uncanny. The Artist is comparable to films from the days of old, as it is presented in black-and-white and takes on the old boxy ratio rather than the widescreen normalized by DVD players. And the actors look as if they stepped right out of the 1920s; the clothing, the makeup, that beauty mark, and that mustache—they all scream old Hollywood glamour. Michel Haznavicius certainly did his homework. And though the film is French, Haznavicius throws a few Hollywood heavyweights into the mix—John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller—for an added American appeal and authenticity.

And of course, though we often hate to admit it, we all find nostalgia irresistible, both film fanatics and the public sphere alike. The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love, and Gone with the Wind are past Best Picture winners that play on our love for nostalgia. And let’s face it, The Artist is sure to resonate with the Academy’s large band of senior citizen voters; that’s just plain reality. And as far as the public sphere is concerned, just about every girl goes through a phase in which she acquires an affinity for Audrey Hepburn, evident from the plethora of posters and quotes that pepper the walls of college dorms. The reality is that the only Audrey Hepburn film most girls have ever seen is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, if that. There is simply an appeal to the romanticized past. The Artist has the potential for popularity because we want to appear appreciative of old art forms like the silent film; it’s chic. Yes, we love nostalgia, it’s the American way.

However, what it boils down to is that the cinematography is simply stunning and the acting is absolutely flawless, nostalgic or not. It takes great talent to craft a film with no sound that captivates audiences, and The Artist certainly proves to be a great example. And with the field for Best Picture wide open this year, silence can surely be golden.